Did Bob Chapek Just Backstab His Potential Replacement?

“When you play the Game of Thrones, you win, or you die. There is no middle ground.”

That’s not a quote you should expect to read on a Disney blog, but here we are.

Game of Thrones

The palace intrigue at The Walt Disney Company right now would rival anything that George RR Martin has ever written.

In the latest twist, Disney has just fired someone who earned a contract extension less than a year ago.

Jeff Goldblum GIF

Yes, CEO Bob Chapek has apparently backstabbed his potential replacement. Here’s everything we know about this shocking turn of events.

Who Is Peter Rice?

At the risk of sounding like his biographer, I will describe Peter Rice’s track record in detail. It’s oddly vital to this conversation.

peter rice

In 2000, the Englishman gained a prestigious title in Hollywood. He became the President of Fox Searchlight Pictures, and he achieved this at the age of 34.

Studio bosses rarely earn those roles at such a young age. Rice was a prodigy who quickly worked his way up the ladder at Fox.

Fox Searchlight

Part of his success stems from his track record of hits with Fox Searchlight.

The executive had a hand in wildly lucrative films like Juno, Bend It Like Beckham, and Slumdog Millionaire.

Bend it like Beckham

Those three films cost Fox Searchlight less than $30 million to create, and that’s a total combined. Their worldwide box office gross was $686 million.

You can understand why his reputation grew in Hollywood. Not coincidentally, Fox’s boss, Rupert Murdoch, took notice of Rice.

Rupert Murdoch

Photo: The Telegraph

In 2017, Murdoch selected Rice as the President of 21St Century Fox. As a result, Rice effectively gained the keys to the kingdom as the head of all Fox programming.

Of course, the executive didn’t get to enjoy that position for long. In December of 2017, Murdoch agreed to sell most Fox assets to Disney.

Disney Fox

However, the billionaire strongly encouraged his counterpart, Disney CEO Bob Iger, to keep Rice in his position at Fox. That’s what happened.

In fact, Rice earned a promotion in the deal. He entered the c-suite as the Chairman of Walt Disney Television, the most prestigious role in the industry.

Walt Disney Television

By the age of 50, Rice had already led two of the four American network television stations, Fox and ABC.

Stating the obvious, he’s a remarkably gifted and accomplished Hollywood executive.

peter rice

Photo: The Walt Disney Company

So Why Did Disney Just Fire Peter Rice?

Yes, that was the headline that had my phone buzzing this morning. In an unexpected move – especially to Rice – Disney CEO Bob Chapek fired the man.

Moving forward, Dana Walden replaces Rice in the position of Chairman of Disney General Entertainment Content.

Dana Walden

Photo: The Walt Disney Company

Here’s the odd part of the whole thing. Last August, Disney extended Rice’s contract through 2024.

As part of Chapek’s pushing Rice out the door, the fired executive will receive all his pay through the end of 2024…at a time when Disney is tight with its money.

Photo: skillastics.com

Why would Disney do something so stupid? Here’s where the whole story turns tantalizing.

I wrote an article the other day that I really should have published sooner. The subject was potential replacements for CEO Bob Chapek.

Chapek

That’s currently a hot topic in Hollywood and Wall Street since Chapek’s contract expires on February 28th2023.

I listed eight potential successors in the piece, which I promise to update and post in a few days.

Yes, one of them was Rice, who I didn’t think was Disney’s dream candidate but a likely option.

Peter Rice Disney

PHOTO: DAVID PAUL MORRIS/BLOOMBERG NEWS

CEO searches work like college football coaching gigs. A university starts with a delusional list of guys they’ll sign, like Bill Belichick and Andy Reid.

Then, after seven coaches turn them down, they end up hiring their eighth choice, usually an offensive/defensive coordinator or a head coach from a small school.

Ben McAdoo

Photo: NY Daily News

Disney would be in a similar position with its next hire. The offering process would start with people who don’t need the money or the aggravation.

Then, Disney would hire the best option who fits the list, preferably a promotion from within the company, as happened with Chapek and Iger.

Iger Chapek

Photo: Disney

Guess who counts as the best fit under those parameters…

Bob Chapek Is Ruthless

Friends, no matter what at anybody Disney says about this turn of events, the conclusion is obvious.

Bob Chapek just eliminated the competition.

Chapek

Photo: Getty Images

Disney’s not even trying to hide it. Here’s a quote from the Board of Directors that came out today:

“The strength of The Walt Disney Company’s businesses coming out of the pandemic is a testament to Bob’s leadership and vision for the company’s future.

In this important time of business growth and transformation, we are committed to keeping Disney on the successful path it is on today, and Bob and his leadership team have the support and confidence of the Board.”

Bob Chapek

Photo: Marc Piasecki/Getty Images

Yes, Bob Chapek just received the dreaded vote of confidence from his Board of Directors.

Do you know who never needs a comment like “the support and confidence of…”? The answer is anyone who actually HAS said support and confidence.

Life’s simple with this stuff. When you’re telling someone that you’re not breaking up with them, you both know you’re breaking up with them soon.

chapek

Photo: AP Photo/Jae C Hong

How the Industry Views This Termination

The trades are all over this aspect of the story. Here’s Deadline:

“The strength of The Walt Disney Company’s businesses coming out of the pandemic is a testament to Bob’s leadership and vision for the company’s future.

In this important time of business growth and transformation, we are committed to keeping Disney on the successful path it is on today, and Bob and his leadership team have the support and confidence of the Board.”

Bob Chapek

Photo: Disney

Variety adds:

“Sources close to the situation said the decision came down Wednesday from Chapek and caught virtually everyone on the Burbank lot by surprise.

Multiple sources say the decision was entirely business and strategy-related and had nothing to do with any personal behavior on Rice’s part.”

Bob Chapek

Photo: CNBC

Finally, The Hollywood Reporter summarizes why this happened:

“Rice was seen as a possible internal successor if Chapek and the company were unable to come to terms on a new deal, with some industry insiders telling The Hollywood Reporters that he was angling to replace the CEO.”

peter rice

Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images

Yes, Peter Rice just played the Game of Thrones and lost. In fact, we can circle back to the relationship analogy again.

In recent months, David Zaslav, the architect of the WarnerMedia/Discovery merger, had openly flirted with Rice.

WarnerMediaDiscovery

Zaslav wanted Rice to perform the role that Jason Kilar recently had as leader of WarnerMedia.

Rice would have run one of America’s three most significant streaming media services. However, he reportedly turned down this position because he didn’t want to report to Zaslav.

David Zaslav

Photo: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Realistically, Rice wanted to stick with Disney in hopes of gaining the proverbial Magic Kingdom as Chapek’s replacement.

So, Rice was in a relationship with somebody, flirted too much with somebody else, and now finds himself alone and lonely.

peter rice

Final Thoughts

Ostensibly, Rice could return to the Zaslav offer if it’s still there, but he’s wounded by this.

On Disney’s side, everyone will pretend like Dana Walden was the preferred choice to Rice.

Disney

Image Credit: Disney

However, Rice didn’t believe that until yesterday afternoon. And nobody at Disney should either.

Unlike Rice, Walden hadn’t received a contract extension. She had also joined Disney from the former Fox. Like Chapek, her contract ends next year.

Walt Disney Company

Image: Disney

Disney had shown no signs of extending it before this turn of events.

Suddenly, she’s among the most influential people in Hollywood. So, she’s had a good day.

Walden is also a highly respected leader who has earned this role many times over. Frankly, it should have happened by now. Rice’s misfortune is her massive gain.

Dana Waldman

Photo: Variety

Notably, Chapek appears weakened in all this as well. His making this move signals that he’s heard the whispers and WILL fight to keep his job.

However, nobody makes a move like this unless they feel threatened and territorial.

To everyone else in Hollywood and Wall Street, the word is out that Disney’s CEO position may be up for grabs again over the next nine months.

So, this story is just getting started. We’ll have more on a potential list of replacements in a few days.

Feature Image: Matt Stroshane/Courtesy Disney Parks

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